June 9 – 23, 2000

As I write this, the Sydney Film Festival is a few days away from beginning. I have managed to catch one of the films to play at it, and here are my quick impressions of it:

Away With Words    Dir: Christopher Doyle  Hong Kong/Japan   90 mins

Well, I guess if we can’t have the latest Wong Kar-wai film (which premiered at Cannes), we can at least see the debut film from his cinematographer Christopher Doyle. One of the interesting things about Doyle, of course, is that he’s Australian, and I think that is one of the reasons why this film of his is so curious. The one Anglo character in it, Kevin, seems to have a slightly Australian twang to his voice, and a personality familiar to us from all the gays around us, and the presence of someone like Stephan Elliot. Kevin’s displacement provides the laughs in the film, but he is also “quite at home” roaming the world – a far cry from all the alienation effects we usually witness with displaced characters. Doyle himself also obviously feels comfortable with Asian culture, making films mainly there in the past 15 years.

But the Japanese character, and the girl, are somewhat alienated. Still, it would be pointless making a comparison between this film and Wong’s work. Wong’s poignancy is missing. If anything, Doyle is more “post-modern” in his form and style. This clearly runs like a mid-’60s Godard film – in turns poetic, in turns absurd, it jumps about all over the place, with great experimentation in picture and sound. Doyle gets to utilise his cinematographic bag of tricks here more than usual of course – and there are quite a few delights in the time-lapse and wide-angle shots he conjures. It’s quite a playful film, if at times a little too extravagant. Make sure you don’t walk out on the credits – there is the longest post-credits “moment” I’ve ever seen here!

It’s a post-credits sequence that obviously signifies that this film is a bit of fun for its director. But as its title suggests, Away With Words is also a sincere meditation on the world, with its many surfaces, textures and moods. The sea and the sky, but also numerous interiors, are captured lovingly and imaginatively by Doyle’s lens. Language is examined too, and the theme of communication. Like in Ghost Dog, this film shows that you don’t need to understand or speak someone’s language to interact with them. Away With Words gives miscommunication a good name! Verging on the trashy at times, this film emerges as a colorful, spirited and thoughtful work.

As you can see from the above, I can’t unfortunately report that the new Wong Kar-wai will be at the Sydney fest. (Fingers crossed that it will appear at Melbourne.) Or the Kiarostami (from last year – how slow are we?), or the Kitano (Kikujiro), or the … you get the picture.

A couple of the retrospectives look good though, here’s the blurb from the festival program:

Max Ophuls (1902-1957) began his career as an actor, but soon gravitated to directing. His earliest work was produced in his native Germany, but the Ophuls left his homeland in the mid-1930s, and spent several years making films in France, Italy and Holland before settling in Hollywood in 1941. At the top of his form he returned to France in the 1950s creating his final masterpieces. Ophuls has been described as excessively romantic but this never detracts from the unique dramatic style of his films. His thematic concerns of women being repressed by the rigid morality of a hypocritical society are not unique. However, the manner by which he captured the lushness of his decor turned his films into ornate and seductive masterpieces. His camera was incredibly fluid, constantly moving in an intoxicating array of tracking shots, crane shots, tilts and pans and sensuously caressing the luxurious baroque textures of the timeless world in which his characters moved. ‘He gave camera movement its finest hours in the history of the cinema,’ wrote critic Andrew Sarris. Actor James Mason also commented ‘a shot that does not call for tracks is agony for poor old Max’.

FILMS SCREENING: La Signora Di Tutti   The Reckless Moment    Madame De    Lola Montes

Alan Clarke – A Retrospective When he died aged 54 in 1990, Alan Clarke was, arguably, Britain’s most influential, but least seen film-maker, his main body of work having been designed for television in an era when British cinema was alive and well on the small screen. A film-maker of extraordinary muscularity and humanity, whose films could be compared with those of Robert Bresson, Clarke took inspiration from the hard stuff of, often institutionalised, life. And from the suburban teenage junkies in Christine, the Borstal hard cases in Scum, the squaddies on border patrol in Northern Ireland in Contact, he commented specifically on lives made – and broken – in Britain. The legacy of Clarke’s work, which launched the acting careers of Britain’s finest young acting talent – Tim Roth, Gary Oldman, Ray Winstone, Phil Daniels, David Thewlis and Jane Horrocks – has found new voice as the “class of Clarke” step into the director’s chair themselves, as evidenced by Gary Oldman’s acclaimed directorial debut Nil by Mouth (and Tim Roth’s The War Zone), both of which bear all the hallmarks of the Clarke style:” raw, gritty and uncompromising”. – Richard Kelly, Edinburgh Film Festival, 1998. The screenings will be introduced by Corin Campbell Hill who worked as first assistant director on Alan’s later films.

FILMS SCREENING: Scum    Beloved Enemy     Psy-Warriors     Made In Britain    Contact    Christine    Rita, Sue And Bob Too      Road Elephant     The Firm

Opening Night film is Jonathan Teplitzky’s debut feature”Better than Sex”, starring Susie Porter and David Wenham. Closing Night extravaganza will present the Australian premieres of Mark Lamprell’s “My Mother Frank”, and Stephen Frear’s “High Fidelity”.

Hottest new international features Shorts from tomorrow’s film hereos Provocative documentaries Fascinating retrospectives Max Ophuls Alan Clarke Cutting-edge new media Exciting new work in our New Directors Series Compelling Forums Program of new Dutch cinema

FULL PROGRAM:      http://www.sydfilm-fest.com.au/ticketing/index.html

TICKETING INFO:    http://www.sydfilm-fest.com.au/program/fullprogram.html

MY RECOMMENDATIONS:

The following films look worth catching:

Beau Travail – Claire Denis
Clouds of May – Nuri Bilge Ceylan (Turkey)
Dora-Heita – Kon Ichikiwa
Farewell Home Sweet Home – Otar Iosselliani
Human Resources – Laurent Cantet
Innocence – Paul Cox
Monday – Sabu (Japan)
A Pornographic Affair – Frederic Fonteyne
Ratcatcher – Lynne Ramsey
Seventeen Years – Zhang Yuan
Throne of Death – Murali Nair (India) (Camera D’Or 1999)
6ixtynin9 – Pen-ek Ratanaruang
American Psycho – Mary Harron (but this is being released soon)
City Loop – Belinda Chayko (fingers crossed for a good Australian film for a change)
Berlin-Cinema – Samira Gloor Fadel
Bunuel’s Prisoners – Ramon Gieling